Galveston County Judge Mark Henry wants the county to again consider creating a special court for people with mental illness.

County commissioners on Monday are scheduled to vote on a proposal to create a mental health court, according to an agenda posted by the county on Thursday.

Creating a mental health court would benefit the county by keeping some repeat offenders out of jail and getting them into a treatment program, Henry said.

“We run the largest mental health facility in the county; it’s called the county jail,” Henry said. “We need to get the people that truly have mental health issues out of the criminal justice system.”

A judge already has volunteered to preside over the court, Henry said. But there are no final proposals about how much the court would cost the county or how many people it would serve.

Mental health courts are diversion programs where a person charged with a nonviolent, low-level crime is given the opportunity to receive counseling and other services instead of going to jail.

The program is voluntary. If a person qualifies for the program and declines, or if they fail to meet the terms for participating in the program, they’re sent through the normal judicial process.

Galveston County last discussed creating a mental health court in 2016, though the plans for that were scuttled when the state denied grant funding for the program.

If commissioners on Monday approve creating the court, they’ll have to find some money in the county’s budget to do it, Henry said. The state favors providing grants to already established drug treatment court programs that have shown some effectiveness, he said.

“They want to see a successful program before we get grant funds,” Henry said.

Mental health courts were first created in the 1990s. There are now at least 17 mental health courts across Texas, according to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

Galveston County already has two other speciality courts, one for veterans and another for people suffering from drug or alcohol addictions.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


(5) comments

Bailey Jones

This is a great idea. Years ago I was called to jury duty to commit a homeless man for mental health care. He thought he was Stevie Wonder. He wanted treatment, his lawyer wanted it, the court wanted it, and we gave it to him. It would have been a crime to put him in jail.

Jim Casey

Excellent idea. The current system doesn't work, and it's costly.

James Lippert

Most excellent and practical idea for those who suffer mental issues and the general public. Putting the medicine where the hurt is, a winning idea all the way around.

Robert Waggoner

I didn't see in this article that there was an increase of those going to court having mental issues. It only references the need to handle the problem. If these people are already going to court, then why do we need to find money to handle this. Seems as if we could just utilize what we already have by re-arranging courts and put the right people in the court to make it function properly.

Mojo Boogie

[thumbup][thumbup]Thank you Judge Henry!!! I am a mental health professional and I can't wait.

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